Understanding professional strengths — yours and other people’s — is an important employability skill.
We need to understand — and be able to describe — our professional strengths.
- Knowing your strengths helps you find work you enjoy and do well.
- Being able to articulate your strengths helps employers and interviewers understand how you contribute.
- Understanding other people’s strengths helps teams work together effectively, and tolerate each other’s weaknesses.
Be Able to Describe Your Strengths
Being able to define and describe your professional strengths will improve your career. Create and practice strengths statements that you can use in resumes, job interviews (where you’re almost always asked about your strengths and weaknesses), performance reviews and team projects.
Identify 3-5 Specific Strengths
If you’re responding to a specific job posting, analyze it for what strengths the employer wants.
Alternatively, if you’re identifying your own strengths, take a look at compliments and positive feedback you get, work you find easy to do well, skills that come quickly, and things that seem effortless to you.
Also, you can take a free strengths test online (High 5 Test is a good one). But please remember that although these tests can offer useful feedback, they are not absolute guarantees of who you are.
When describing your strengths and skills, you must provide evidence. Anyone can claim to be responsible, hardworking or a fast learner, so those terms have become meaningless. But if you provide specific evidence, employers will understand your experience and expertise.
I take full responsibility for projects I work on. For example, last month my team was tasked with facilitating an EDI workshop for senior management. The day before the workshop, our slides file got corrupted and couldn’t be saved. So I volunteered to rebuild them. I had to stay late to do it, but the extra effort was worth it. The workshop was a success and the CEO complimented us on great visuals!
I excel at needs analysis and solution development. For example, as a consultant to a large government organization, I noticed that customers frequently complained about how long it took to pay their bills online. So I met with the customer service department to analyze the complaints. Then I met with the web development department and reviewed the payment website. We created a simple fix — reordering the steps for online payment — that decreased complaints and incorrect payments by over 50%.
Each of the above examples include the claim, context, problem, and solution — which combine to create evidence that supports your claim.
This next example is slightly different. It uses industry terms and jargon to prove familiarity with the job, and knowledge of what employers would want:
As a registered diagnostic sonographer, I’ve performed abdominal, obstetrical, pelvic, small parts and vascular ultrasound examinations, capturing diagnostic 2D, M-mode and Doppler images, with accurate reports to the radiologist. I use Med-Scan and PatientPlus software extensively. And I’m experienced on fixed and mobile diagnostic sonography equipment, especially GE and Philips models.
Know How to Describe Weaknesses
Interviewers typically ask about weaknesses, for example “Tell us about your greatest weakness” or “What’s one of your weaknesses and how do you handle it?”
Always be prepared to discuss one or two challenges that are realistic but not overwhelming. Acknowledge the challenge briefly and then talk about what you’re doing to turn it from a challenge into a strength.
I used to micromanage my teams, and ended up doing all the work myself. So I got burned out, and my direct reports felt disrespected. I worked on it by encouraging my colleagues to take ownership: together we create consensus, clear boundaries and realistic expectations. I also worked on my perfectionism. Since doing this, my last two projects have been much more enjoyable and successful — for all of us.”
List of Weaknesses With Examples will help you understand how to talk about your professional challenges.
Strength, Weakness or Challenge?
It’s easy to criticize ourselves: I should be more assertive or I shouldn’t procrastinate. But doing that can damage our self-esteem, making it even harder to turn weaknesses into strengths.
These two changes in how you think can make a huge difference:
Challenge vs Weakness
Think of weaknesses as challenges. Calling something a weakness can make it feel like a fixed trait – something that can’t be changed. But thinking of it as a challenge can create room for change. After all, a challenge can be overcome.
Strengths are a Spectrum
Think of strengths and challenges not as opposites, but as on a spectrum. Challenges aren’t the opposite of strengths; they’re simply too much or too little of a strength.
For example, if you’re passive, it doesn’t mean you’re not assertive – just that you’re not assertive enough. If you’re aggressive, it means you’re too assertive.
Thinking of strengths and challenges on a spectrum means you don’t have to change completely, or become someone you’re not. You just need a bit more or less of a strength.